The upcoming computer graphics film show at Princeton University features several selections chosen from films not yet released to the public.
For that matter, some of the films were still in progress when they were chosen this July, says Rebecca Mercuri, an officer with the sponsoring groups, Princeton Association of Computing Machinery and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, known respectively as ACM and IEEE.
Selected from the juried Computer Animation Festival at the 2017 ACM SIGGRAPH conference, the films were created by different organizations, individuals, and students. What impresses Mercuri is that skilled artists can now produce sophisticated animations from their home computers, thanks to advancements in graphics research. Mercuri calls the films slated for the ACM/IEEE meeting “the best of the best.”
In keeping with the theme of scientific visualization and education, the upcoming meeting will also host a Celebration of Mind party in honor of Martin Gardner, the polymath who introduced the American public to the flexagon and the Möbius strip, wrote the “Mathematical Games” column for Scientific American (1950s through 1980s), performed as a magician, and wrote several books including “The Annotated Alice,” which explores mathematical concepts and word play in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
The Princeton show and celebration takes place Thursday, October 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the university’s Maeder Hall Auditorium on Olden Street and Prospect Avenue. The event, which is free and open to the public, begins with the Gardner celebration, which includes refreshments, handouts, and a short talk on the math behind opinion polls and elections, prepared by ACM chair Dennis Mancl and presented by Mercuri. For more information, call 908-285-1066 or visit www.princetonacm.acm.org.
Mercuri, the IEEE chair, is a founder of the Princeton ACM chapter, which was formed in 1979, spearheaded by Doug Dixon with a key group of people from Sarnoff/RCA labs.
Dixon, owner of Manifest Technology, is a consultant, editor, author, and speaker specializing in digital media (and an occasional contributor to U.S. 1 newspaper). As head of Princeton’s ACM/IEEE special interest group on computer graphics — SIGGRAPH — Dixon is a key person behind the upcoming computer graphics film show, which will be introduced by Princeton computer science professor Adam Finkelstein (whose work with voice processing software was the cover story in the September TK U.S. 1). Curated from SIGGRAPH’s 2017 festival, Finkelstein’s selection of films represents emerging trends in computer animation.
SIGGRAPH’s website — s2017.siggraph.org — billed the event as the world’s largest, most influential annual conference and exhibition in computer graphics and interactive techniques. Held in Los Angeles, it included five days of research results, demos, educational sessions, art, screenings, and hands-on interactivity featuring the community’s latest technical achievements, and three days of commercial exhibits displaying the industry’s latest hardware, software, and services.
A sampling of the graphics topics and animations from the summer’s conference include faster content creation and VR tools; physics-based face modeling and animation; shaping objects from flat plates; simulation as art, computational zoom; digital 3D painting and texturing; realities of VR production, building shots for high-end TV shows; speech animation; storytelling and world building for VR; and much more.
Mercuri finds the animation show and the Celebration of Mind party to be an apt combination to launch ACM/IEEE’s new season. Developed by the Gathering 4 Gardner Foundation (G4G), Celebration of Mind (CoM) encourages people to explore puzzles, games, math, and magic. Princeton’s ACM/IEEE began hosting Celebration of Mind several years ago when Nancy Blachman, the current chair of the G4G foundation, introduced the idea to Mercuri.
Worldwide celebrations take place every year during the week of Gardner’s birth date, October 21. For participants, these events create opportunities to voice ideas and make new connections, contribute papers, presentations, and share activities and objects they have created. Much of the contributors’ content is accessible to the public on G4G’s website, celebrationofmind.org. While individuals can find events offered worldwide using the website’s map, they are invited to host their own event.
Mercuri was first introduced to Gardner’s work in grade school when her father, a science teacher in the Philadelphia school district, brought home a project for Mercuri and her siblings to make at the kitchen table.
The project was a set of instructions for making a hexaflexagon — a construction usually made from folded strips of paper than can be can be flexed along the folds in various ways to reveal different visual patterns. “It’s like origami but you can fold in it certain ways and then manipulate the object to make different color patterns,” she says.
While Mercuri was growing up, her mother went back to school, earned her degree, and became a professor at Drexel University’s English department and eventually received an award for writing on the subject of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
“We are a pretty intense family in terms of arts and science,” Mercuri says. Her brother became an electrical engineer, and her sister became a NASA space ambassador.
Mercuri earned her doctorate in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master’s in science from Drexel. In 1981 she founded and became president of Notable Software Inc., (originally located in Philadelphia, now in Hamilton) a consulting firm specializing in computer forensics, security, and expert witness testimony. Today Mercuri is known as one of the world’s leading computer security and voting specialists.
Notable Software’s investigations focus on criminal defense, computer-related intellectual property, digital multimedia, community noise control, and election systems.
The company has provided services to Intel Corp., Merck & Co., Boeing, the U.S. Army, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, the Federal Aviation Administration, and Sarnoff. Notable Software has created museum exhibits for the Franklin Institute Science Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Strong Museum.
Mercuri lightheartedly compares her work in digital forensics to solving mysteries Sherlock Homes-style because it involves inductive and deductive reasoning.
She explains that when you are presented with one side of a story, you explore the data to see if there is another side. Working in digital forensics is similar to working with the flexagon that Gardner made popular, she laughs. “You get to see the hidden aspects.”